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Let’s make the Housing Support Grant a success

It has been a year of uncertainty for Supporting People and homelessness funding in Wales. Katie Dalton reflects on the last 12 months and the work that lies ahead.

Rewind to 2017

In October 2017 the Welsh Government revealed a proposal to merge ten grants together to form a new Early Intervention: Prevention and Support (EIPS) Grant in 2019/20. This included Supporting People and Homelessness Prevention Grant, alongside a series of non-housing grants.

The reaction from the housing sector was pretty clear: this was a bad idea. Over the following weeks and months we raised concerns during meetings, in the media and in front of National Assembly committees. We highlighted the risks of merging housing and non-housing grants, such as diluting the focus on homelessness, the impact of NIMBYism on funding for ‘politically unpopular’ schemes, and the effect of uncertainty on landlords’ ability to borrow funds and develop supported accommodation.

A constructive alternative

For a number of years, the sector has steadfastly defended the ring-fence around Supporting People. However, we were acutely aware that Welsh ministers wanted to align and reduce the number of grants. We suspected that continuing to defend the status quo would not help us to safeguard this vital funding.

As a result, we developed a constructive alternative, which would ring-fence the housing programmes in one grant and the non-housing programmes in another. This would help Welsh ministers to meet their aims by merging ten grants into two, while avoiding the risks outlined above.

However, we needed the support of our members. Despite this approach being a clear departure from previous campaigns, they understood the political climate, accepted our analysis of the situation and threw their weight behind our alternative proposal.

In May, we wrote the Housing Mattersreport, which formalised this alternative. It articulated the benefits of this approach, including the opportunity to take a more strategic approach to tackling homelessness and supporting people to live independently. We were very grateful that nine other national organisations agreed to put their name to it, including Community Housing Cymru, Welsh Women’s Aid, Shelter Cymru, CIH Cymru, Tai Pawb, EROSH South Wales, Rough Sleepers Cymru, Housing Justice Cymru and End Youth Homelessness Cymru.

The report was published in June and the housing minister assured us that she would consider this proposal over the coming months. And she kept her promise.

Draft budget announcement

After a summer of energetic and passionate campaigning by our members we knew a decision was imminent. On October 2 the Welsh Government published its draft outline budget for 2019/20 and announced that ministers had decided to pursue the two-grant solution. The housing grants will be ring-fenced together to form a new Housing Support Grant in April 2019, and this will be in place for the duration of this Assembly term.

We were delighted. Welsh ministers have listened to the people who use and deliver services, considered our concerns and recognised the value in our alternative proposal. A good example of co-production between ministers and the people they are elected to serve.

Next steps

There’s lots to do over the next few months in preparation for the new Housing Support Grant. But we are committed to working collaboratively with the Welsh Government, local authorities, our members and other stakeholders to make this work.

Existing governance and commissioning structures, such as the Supporting People National Advisory Board and Regional Collaborative Committees, can be adapted to facilitate the strategic planning and delivery of the Housing Support Grant. However, their remit needs to be reviewed to incorporate the work currently delivered by the Homelessness Prevention Grant, and we will need to develop guidance and outcomes for the merged grant.

This gives us an opportunity to think strategically, at a national and regional level, about how the new Housing Support Grant can best support the delivery of the homelessness duties under the Housing (Wales) Act and the Rough Sleepers Action Plan, including the roll-out of Housing First. It gives us a chance to put psychologically informed approaches at the heart of services and consider how we commission and deliver services that have the greatest impact on people’s lives. The sector will also need to respond to the recommendations of the Wales Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports on Supporting People.

Ministers have delivered on their promise, listened to our sector and acted to safeguard this funding. We now have the opportunity and responsibility to engage positively and ensure that the Housing Support Grant is a success.

Katie Dalton is director of Cymorth Cymru

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